No one can yearn like a Russian. Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony has yearning aplenty. Beneath the suave, almost louche, art deco glamour – clearly influenced by his years in the United States – there lies an undercurrent of nostalgia for Mother Russia. I believe it was Jascha Heifetz who once described Rachmaninov’s Piano Trio as “silk underwear music”. It was probably one of those you-had-to-be-there moments but in listening to this gorgeous score, I think I know what he meant.
My favourite moment is the first movement’s second subject, which sidles in with cellos wafting above woodwind melismas. Gianandrea Noseda’s finesse in letting the music unfold naturally and seductively enhances its beauty. It’s hard not to fall back on that overworked adjective “elusive” to describe the kaleidoscopic, mercurial moods of this symphony. The central movement, with its plangent horn calls and swooning harp and then its strange sudden lurch into a scherzo is just as haunting. The finale is a 20th-century take on a Russian dance.
The BBC Philharmonic is in top form in all departments and Noseda allows every strand of melody to shine through in what can only be described as a luminous recording.
The two other works are the early Prince Rostislav, about a prince who drowns, composed when Rachmaninov was aged 18 (impressively precocious and reminiscent of Balakirev’s equally gloomy Thamar) and the almost equally youthful Caprice bohémien. Only Rachmaninov could open a caprice with so much drooping melancholy.